ARC Reviews, Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

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Today I’m back with a book review for And I Darken  by Kiersten White.  And I Darken is a YA historical fiction with a very unique concept: it is a gender swap retelling of Vlad the Impaler.  Did the author pull it off?

You are going to have to read on to find out 🙂

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andidarkenAuthor:  Kiersten White

Genre:  Young Adult • Historical Fiction

Version: eBook

Publisher: Random House Books

Source: NetGalley

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 Book Synopsis:

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.

The first of an epic new trilogy starring the ultimate anti-princess who does not have a gentle heart. Lada knows how to wield a sword, and she’ll stop at nothing to keep herself and her brother alive.

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My Thoughts:

And I Darken is a gender swap retelling of Vlad the Impaler, who is thought to be the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s DraculaIf you are not familiar with Vlad the Impaler, he was the ruler of Walachia (now Romania) during various times in the mid 1400s.  Vlad is best known for his torture of choice, which was to impale his enemies on stakes in the ground and leave them there to suffer a slow and painful death… Brutal right?  The moment I heard this was a Vlad retelling, my interest was immediately peaked.  Based on the research I did on Vlad the Impaler, White did a fantastic job with this retelling.  I think she really stayed true to many events in Vlad’s early life.

I really like how Lada was not the stereotypical YA female warrior.  What do I mean by this?  She wasn’t overwhelmingly beautiful and didn’t just pick up a sword and instantly knew how to use it.  A female lead who is average looking or even ugly as it is implied?  It is unheard of, especially in YA.  I loved the fact that Lada isn’t just naturally a bad ass, White actually shows us that Lada works for it by training hard.  It may just be me, but Lada reminded me a bit of the Disney character Mulan.  Because she is a woman, she finds that she must earn the respect of the other male warriors.  Lada achieves this by being very resourceful and creative in her fighting/war tactics.

“Her spine was steel. Her heart was armor. Her eyes were fire.”

A big criticism of this book is that the main character, Lada, goes through a personality change half way through the book.  Personally, I saw this change more as the fact that she was growing up… I also take into consideration that Lada was very much a product of her environment with her father, so once she was no longer in that environment, her disposition softened… at least that is my theory.

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Family dynamics are a huge part of And I Darken Lada is shunned by her father simply because she was not born a boy.  She spends much of her childhood focusing on molding herself into someone who is worthy of her father’s love and respect, but it never comes.  Lada portrays herself as cold hearted and uncaring, but deep down she is just a girl who desperately wants her father’s approval.  I really enjoyed the brother-sister relationship between Lada and Radu throughout this book as well.  To me, it was very realistic in the sense that sibling relationships are sometimes very love-hate.  I really enjoyed watching their relationship grow and develop.  I grew up with 3 brothers, so I understand this dynamic very well.  I liked to torment my little brother, but I was also the first person to defend him if someone else tried to mess with him.

“If anyone is going to kill you, it will be me. Understand?”
Radu nodded, snuggling into her shoulder. “Will you protect me?
“Until the day I kill you.”

Speaking of Radu, he was such a wonderfully complex character.  While his sister uses her brawn, Radu uses his mind.  It was very interesting to see Radu develop from a “weakling” and watch him climb the social ladder into a position of power.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that religion, specifically Islam, was such a big part in Radu’s life.  While it is true that I am not a fan when religion in books feels “preachy,” White gives us just the right amount of religious undertones that felt more like it was enlightening the reader instead of pushy or preachy.

“You are wrong, Lada.  Belief is not weakness.  Faith is the greatest strength we have.”

*Side note: I may be in the minority here, but I am not on team Mehemed.  Mehemed is one of those people who want to have their cake and eat it too.  Mark my words, his greed will be the end of him.

The pacing of And I Darken is very much on the slower side, which suited me just fine, BUT if you are not a fan of books that unfold slowly, this may not be the book for you.   The majority of the “action” in this book comes in the form of political drama: plots to concur other kingdoms, overthrowing leaders, murdering heirs, etc. etc. If you are a fan of books or TV shows with lots of political intrigue (think Philippa Gregory books), I would recommend this book to you.

I have read review upon review of disappointed readers who said this was not the fantasy book that they were anticipating.  I am not sure why 955 people on Goodreads tagged this book as fantasy, but it is definitely historical fiction.  I repeat, this book is NOT fantasy.

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And I Darken has lots of things going for it: a strong female main character, complex supporting characters, political drama, action, and a touch of romance.  There were a few annoyances, but nothing that hindered my enjoyment of the book.  I LOVED how things all panned out in the end.  Bravo White!  I look forward to the sequel, Now I Rise, which is expected to release on June 27, 2017.

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My Rating:

5-Star Rating System

*Big thanks to Random House Books for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author:

Kiersten White.jpgKIERSTEN WHITE is the New York Times bestselling author of the Paranormalcy trilogy; the dark thrillers Mind Games and Perfect Lies; The Chaos of Stars; and Illusions of Fate. She also coauthored In the Shadows with Jim Di Bartolo. She lives with her family near the ocean in San Diego, which, in spite of its perfection, spurs her to dream of faraway places and even further away times.

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29 thoughts on “Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White”

  1. I have this wrapped up within the fantasy section of my shelves somewhere and yet again you have made me want to rip the wrapping off all my books until I find it :). Great review hun I’m looking forward to reading this now I adore political intrigue!! It’s a big buzz word for .e

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  2. Yes there definitely seems to be some confusion on the genre. Every single review scream historical fiction when I keep seeing the label fantasy slapped on there. This review was very helpful as I am trying to decide which YA titles I will be keeping on my TBR at this point. I have to admit that this sounds perfect for me, and I love books where we get to see so much character growth and development. Amazing review Amanda!

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    1. Thank you! I think people see the cover and it says Fantasy to them? I just hate to see people reading this and being disappointed, this boy rating it as high. For a YA historical fiction, I thought it was quite good! Plus the Vlad the Impaler retelling is so unique. I’m very interested in where things will go in the next book. I think things are going to get much more brutal 😳

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well it was last year…. lol I joined NetGalley last March and didn’t understand how it worked, thus requesting a million books and getting approved for 75…. so now I’m in a REALLY deep hole of NetGalley ARCs 🙈 I’m determined to read them all though! I promise I’ve learned my lesson lol

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  3. Fabulous review, as always!! I’m glad you ended up enjoying it, Amanda! As you know, it wasn’t my cup of tea, but that’s ok! I love your theory on Lada’s personality change, which makes quite a lot of sense. I, too, enjoyed the relationship between Lada and Radu… and of course, I agree with you about the genre. Definitely NOT Fantasy. Anyway, like I said, I’m happy you liked this one!! The cover is so beautiful, isn’t it? 😊

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    1. Yeah I guess it does look Fantasy-ish BUT people should not tag a genre when they aren’t sure! I honestly feel bad bc so many people read it expecting Fantasy, then are disappointed and rate it low. It’s a shame because it’s quite good for a YA historical fiction, especially with the unique retelling concept.

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  4. Finally a review to shed some light! wonderful review Amanda! I added this book to my TBR soemtime last year after watching the author’s interview & falling in love with her process/research for the book. Recently i purchased the ebook on sale even though I already have the physical copy. There are some books that give me THAT gut feeling….you know, the one where you know you’re gonna love a book lol. I never got “Fantasy” from that interview, it’s very much Historical Fiction like you mention. I am still looking forward to this one since I haven’t read anything on Vlad the Impaler 😉

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    1. Thank you Lilly! I remember Reg @SheLatitude really enjoying this one (despite many mixed reviews) so I had to see what it was all about. I really enjoyed this book and am very interested in the second installment. If you aren’t put off by slower paced novels and enjoy political drama, then I do think you’d enjoy it too! I haven’t seen any of these author interviews you’ve mentioned, so obviously I need to investigate and see them for myself 😁

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  5. I never would have considered this book because I just feel like ya ruins every plot I find interesting, lol. But! Your comments, esp about her not being a wonder child, have actually made change my mind and I’m going to add this to my library list!

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    1. I would be interested in seeing what you think of it! It has some mixed reviews, but I really enjoyed it. I felt like is was more realistic than a typical YA book? The female lead even gets her period. Never in my life have I read about a girl getting her period and the whole inconvenience of it all! Especially to a female warrior. I know this probably sounds odd, but these little things are what made the book feel more real to me…

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      1. No, I totally know what you mean. I think Cealaeanae (lol I’m being a jerk) in throne of glass had her period if I recall correctly. But she was so insipid that I already hated her at that point and thus didn’t care what occurred.

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      2. Haha definitely not. That post you linked to for Hey Ashers snarking the book gave me so much joy. My review for that book is really just a rant and it was hard not to post something three times as long. Lol. I won’t touch any more of her stuff.

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  6. I love your thoughts on this, I was a bit disappointed at the personality change in the middle of the book but I can totally see how the new environment is bound to effect her as she grows, the relationships are all so complicated and I really liked the tense feelings she has with her brother while still loving him fiercely.
    I’m really excited for the next book and thought the retelling was super on point (I had a convo about Vlad in impaler with someone and actually understood what they were saying coz of the info info this book 😀 I also really appreciated that Lada was ‘ugly’ and stayed that way, there are a lot of stories that start off with a unattractive character and they end up having some sort of magical makeover and I just appreciated that she was herself the whole way through. Great review Amanda!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooohhh I like brutal, I’m really looking forward to Now I Rise I tried to score a copy from Netgalley but I didn’t get approved 😦 I’ll just have to sit in wait like everyone 😀

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  7. Thank you for reviewing this, Amanda! I have never seen a review of this book, and I’ve always overlooked it based on the cover (I know, I know…). But this is definitely on my TBR now. Historical fiction is a weakness for me. I only recently learned quite a bit about Vald the Impaler’s life, and it is both terrifying and fascinating. He is also represented in Joe Abercrombie’s YA fantasy, Half the World.

    That said, I’m going to wait for the final book to come out before I start (yet another) series.

    I totally understand the frustration about the “fantasy” tag. This is a problem for so many books. I agree– I think it’s probably that people see the cover and make assumptions. Historical fiction isn’t super popular in YA right now. Shame, really.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading Jackie! If you are familiar with Vlad’s life, I really think you’d appreciate this novel. I really enjoyed it, despite some minor issues. I don’t blame you for waiting until the series is finished, I loath waiting for sequels 🙄. I agree, HF is not popular in the YA genre, BUT I have hope as more and more authors (like Rita Sepetys) are attempting it 🤞🏻

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